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Course & Subject Guides

Library Research Help @ Pitt

This guide will help you with your research paper or project.

 

Develop a Search Strategy: Select your resources and develop your keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

  1. Express your topic in a topic sentence: "What is the effect of television violence on children?"
  2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence: "What is the effect of television violence on children?"; = Effect, Television, Violence, or Television violence and Children
  3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:
  • Television; media, TV,
  • Violence; aggression,
  • Effect; influence,
  • Children; toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Tip: You can can combine your keywords in your searches using Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT. These operators must be written in ALL CAPS.

Search: Conduct multiple searches in relevant resource

Tip: Use search results from your background research for more keyword ideas. Looking at a title's subject headings can also help produce related terms.

Types of Sources

Before you search, consider the type of sources you're looking for. This will likely impact where and how you search. 

There are three types of sources:

1) Primary Sources

  • Original materials that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony concerning a topic or event.
  • Primary sources can be contemporary sources created at the time when the event occurred (e.g., letters and newspaper articles) or later (such as, memoirs and oral history interviews).
  • Primary sources may be published or unpublished.  Unpublished sources are unique materials (e.g., family papers) often referred to as archives and manuscripts.
  • What constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. How the researcher uses the source generally determines whether it is a primary source or not.

2) Secondary Sources

  • Works that interpret, analyze, and discuss the evidence provided by primary sources (e.g., scholarly books and articles).
  • Secondary sources are generally a second-hand account or observation at least one step removed from the event.
  • Secondary sources, however, can be considered to be primary sources depending on the context of their use. For example, Ken Burns' documentary of the Civil War is a secondary source for Civil War researchers, but a primary source for those studying documentary filmmaking.

3) Tertiary Sources

  • Books or articles that synthesize or distill primary and secondary sources, often in a convenient, easy-to-read form (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and textbooks).

Example . . .

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

The Historian researching World War I might utilize: Newspaper articles, weekly/monthly news magazines, diaries, correspondence, and diplomatic records from 1914 to 1919. Articles in scholarly journals analyzing the war, possibly footnoting primary documents; books analyzing the war.
The Literary Critic researching literature written during World War I might utilize: Novels, poems, plays, diaries, and correspondence of the time period. Published articles in scholarly journals providing analysis and criticism of the literature; books analyzing the literature; formal biographies of writers from the era.
The Psychologist researching trench warfare and post-traumatic stress disorder in World War I veterans might utilize: Original research reports on the topic or research notes taken by a clinical psychologist working with World War I veterans. Articles in scholarly publications synthesizing results of original research; books analyzing results of original research.
The Scientist researching long-term medical effects of chemical warfare on exposed veterans might utilize: Published articles in scholarly journals reporting on a medical research study and its methodology. Published articles in scholarly journals analyzing results of an original research study; books doing the same.